England v New Zealand, 2nd ODI, Edgbaston June 18, 2008

Gauging the Twenty20 feeling

The term "it's a funny old game" is often applied to cricket, but never before has it been so apt

Shots like this from Kevin Pietersen will keep the crowds happy in any form of the game © Getty Images
The term "it's a funny old game" is often applied to cricket, but never before has it been so apt. Not content with Tests and one-dayers, Twenty20 has elbowed its way past them both as the game's most exciting and profitable format. Like it or not, it is here to stay, but has the sport forgotten who it is entertaining?

To judge by the patient Edgbaston crowd, many of whom hung around loyally until the delayed 3pm start, the consensus as to the impact of Twenty20 is mixed - divided neatly between the age groups. That much is unsurprising; Twenty20 provides the Playstation generation with immediate entertainment and a high chance of a result, whereas those brought up on a diet of four and five-day cricket are distinctly wary about its potential.

Jeremy Parker is a landscape architect, and while the wind lashed Edgbaston's hardiest, he was found lurking in a dry foyer for the Colin Langley Memorial Library. "Twenty20 is certainly exciting, but one-dayers give you more opportunity for the match to go either way," Jeremy, 42, told Cricinfo. "I like both really, but I just think one-dayers are more entertaining. Twenty20 is showmanship. Test cricket - well, it's the most important, clearly. Twenty20 is the format to raise funds and get people more interested in the game, but the intensity of Tests set cricket apart from any other sport."

Jeremy's caution over the impact of Twenty20 was shared by Ian Williamson, a 36-year-old chartered accountant. "It's a gimmick isn't it?" he insisted. "It's obviously very successful and more accessible, and brings in more of a crowd. But that's all. It might be a little more exciting but it's a less-than-even contest between bat and ball. Being a bowler myself I always prefer an even contest."

The debate surrounding batsmen's dominance over bowlers has long been part of the scene, even before Twenty20 was born five years ago. However, there is also a concern that Twenty20 is attracting a new type of fan who might not be too concerned about fair play.

"Our fears are the one-day game as a whole could change the whole nature of cricket," said Graham, a teacher. "I don't mean from skill, but the people who want to come into it. There is certainly a growing 'football mentality' in the people being drawn to cricket. While we want more people to come to the cricket, what we don't want is if it becomes a complete booze-session and it changes the complete feel and nature of the day."

Turnstiles and people - these are the things which first prompted the ECB into finding a new, profitable way of drawing in sizeable crowds. County cricket, though it remains a popular format for people to follow in the newspaper or online, does not attract them into handing over their money at the gate. Twenty20 has done just that, providing counties with an invaluable boost in fledgling income.

"But it lacks some of the intricacies of Tests," Sue, Graham's colleague, said. "You get play-within-play and you simply do not get that in a Twenty20 game. I enjoy watching it, but I want to see it stay as a very small window with Test cricket the king."

What did she make of the comments of Allen Stanford, the Texan billionaire who last week said he found Test cricket boring? "Well, if you cast judgement on something, you really ought to learn what it's all about. I think he could have an undue influence on the game, and for someone who doesn't appear to understand the game, that's a bit concerning."

Stanford may not like Test cricket, but it remains a huge revenue stream. He might learn to love it, too, had he watched West Indies' enthralling series against Australia. Or, for that matter, if he had read Scyld Berry in the Sunday Telegraph, who pointed out that Tests between India and Pakistan can generate upwards of US$3m on advertising alone. But what about the younger generation?

Chad is 14. His Dad is only a borderline fan of Test matches but thoroughly enjoys Twenty20. For him, though, the reason is simpler: money. "There's no way I can afford five days of a Test," he says, laughing, "whereas I can just about scrape a one-dayer or T20, and it's worth it too. I like the one-dayers but I love Twenty20. I think it's brilliant."

Unsurprisingly Chad is of the same opinion. "There's more action in Twenty20," he says . "But in one-dayers you still get a lot of good action, unlike Test matches which get a bit boring."

Cricket cannot rest on its laurels, even if its new and spangly format is wooing the younger generation. Test cricket is not going to disappear, but it must learn from Twenty20 and not compete against it. The occasional switch-hit six from Kevin Pietersen in whites wouldn't go amiss, either.

Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo